Friday, November 23, 2012

Fun Fotos....

This post is a mixed-up collection of recent photos from our little excursions after returning from the Great Divide tour.  The ride was unique and intense, and I have yet to start work on the book that experience will become, but we are blessed with an abundance of mountain glory, and each day we must drink what we can.  The picture above is from another quick trip to the Alabama Hills below Mt. Whitney, our way of celebrating Thanksgiving.  May all of your holidays be as rich and rewarding.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Back in Jack

Yesterday was Jodi's 60th birthday, so after spending the last three months cycling like a maniac along the length of the Rocky Mountains, the next logical thing to do was to get back in shape for climbing beyond the tarmac.  Let's get vertical.  We loaded up the Subaru and headed out for our first day on the crags in about four months.  My last outing was marked by the unfortunate smashing of my left middle finger.  On the tour, that nail eventually came of with a minor tug--eeeeeuuewww.  The digit, however, is back up to rockin' standards, so it was time to get on the stone.  We were both a little nervous after spending so much time away from climbing, but we adapted quickly, especially since the kind of climbing at New Jack City featured above is so-called "sport climbing," which means bolts spaced closely together--perfect for weak minds and fingers.  We didn't climb anything too drastic, and we were both pleased at how relaxed we felt leaving the ground.  We didn't get any climbing shots because we were always busy either climbing or holding the rope, and the light was not the best, either, but here are a few photos to give you a feel for this strange, dark, metamorphic basalt.  It's not our favorite place to climb, but it was warm and still and almost empty on a lazy Thursday afternoon.

Jodi's gift--new iPod Nano--too cool:

Hiking in the rocks:


Monday, November 12, 2012

The road to The Hulk and other stuff...

Okay, I've decided to become a bulging angry green super hero.  You got a problem with that? Huh?  No, not quite, but a real hulk is in my future, and it's not a comic book character or a virtual creation for the big screen.  It's this (pic from Peter Valchev's climbing blog):

This is 1,000 ft. of High Sierra granite goodness, some of the best alpine rock climbing in North America.  I've wanted to climb this for years and figured I'd better get on it before I'm getting around with a Rascal and oxygen tank.  My best buddy, Pete, and I have a serious bro-date with this thing, and it''s about time we got down to business.  The route we'll do--the Red Dihedral--is not hard by world class standards, but I suspect I'll find it quite challenging.  The route takes a line pretty much directly up the center of the face in the sun to the right of the deep, shadowed corners.  For those who understand ratings, its VI 5.10b, mostly 5.8/9 crack climbing.  I need to get back into shape as three months of cycling have left me and Jodi with killer legs and aerobic capacity, we're sporting virtual T-Rex arms.  What this means is a lot of climbing and working out over the next few months.  We head out for our first touch of stone on Thursday.  Expect a quick post and much fear and shaking on my part until I get my head back in the game.

I've also been thinking about what form I want my Vision Quest expeditions to take.  Of course they've been bike tours for these last five years, but I'm growing tired of dealing with traffic--and it's attendant risks.  Two years ago, when I had to drive sag, the crew got some introduction to rock climbing on rest days or when we finished early.  This got me thinking--always a dangerous thing.  Why not make the Vision Quest about hiking/peak bagging/rock climbing?  We could do a long trek, climb a peak, hit some rocks.  I'm thinking now that a combo peak bagging/rock climbing trip would be fantastic.  I could sell off a couple of the trailers I own to finance a couple of packs and/or some climbing harnesses, maybe a couple of pairs of shoes.  The appeal of the wilder wild is strong in me now.  I can feel a deep, internal shift in that direction, a return to some down home roots of my experience.  We are fortunate to live in an area that offers much in the way of hiking and climbing challenges, so finding places to take out the posse would be easy, and Jodi and Django could come along now that the problem of blending bikes and trikes is out of the picture.  I'm excited about this new direction.  Let's see where it goes....

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Gear talk: Heroes and Zeros

Now that our big tour is completed, I want to offer up some observations and opinions about the various bits of kit that made this extended cycling epic work.  Overall, our gear choices were solid, but we had some problems, and perhaps others can benefit from our experiences.

The Heroes:

Catrikes:  These held up beautifully and made all those long, hard miles as comfortable and safe as they could be.  As noted elsewhere, Jodi rides a now discontinued version of the "Road," and I crank on the "Expedition,"  both purchased and expertly outfitted by Bent Up Cycles in North Hollywood.  Dana, the owner, is THE man for recumbent gear.  My expedition had a slight advantage when pushing over rough terrain to get to wild camps because of higher ground clearance, so anyone seeking to do this kind of tour, you'll be well served to get this model.  Also, the bigger rear wheel makes sustaining higher speeds easier.  Because of our big loads (doggie!), we both are outfitted with 203 mm discs on the brakes.  I was never at a loss for powerful, controlled braking on those wild mountain drops.  My trike developed a super annoying squeak after about the first 1,000 miles, which I was never able to eliminate.  I'm pretty sure it has to do with the rack, which I'll remove to see if that solves the problem.

Schlumpf mountain drives:  In many ways, this tour was made possible because of our spectacular gearing.

This device fits into the bottom bracket and has a button on each side that the cyclist taps with his heel, giving a low (2.5 : 1) and "high" range (1 : 1).  This means that even the steepest climbs and the heaviest loads are manageable because of the super low gearing.  Our knees were never stressed in an uncomfortable way.  These units aren't cheap ($700), but we wouldn't tour on trikes without them.  My unit did develop a problem, which I'll have to get checked out.  I lubed both drives before leaving home, but mine developed a severe rattly scraping sound as we got into Montana.  Once we figured out the source of the sound, we got it lubed in Helena, which eliminated the problem--until it came back in Wyoming.  The sound only seemed to occur in the high range.  I resorted to using my rather heavy Chain-L lube--not the light grease, which is the recommended stuff.  By setting the trike on its side and pouring a few drops into the lube access port, I was able to stop the hideous grating sound.  Every few hundred miles, I would repeat.  I don't know if there is some sort of alignment problem or if I need a bigger injection of the proper grease, but the noise was worrisome.  Fortunately, it always worked flawlessly, never slipping or refusing to change gears.  One cool advantage of the Schlumpf Mtn. Drive, is that if you forget to downshift when coming to a stop, you can always pop the drive and be able to ride away.  We need a monument to Florian Schlumpf, the Swiss genius who invented the thing.

Exped air mattresses:  I reviewed these in an earlier post before the tour.  Amazing.  They held up under lots of abuse with Django scrambling over them at every camp.  The ability to pump up the pads without getting light-headed at the end of big day was a true blessing.  The only drawback is that they are VERY noisy when the sleeper turns over.  Using the seat-conversion kit dampens this somewhat.  I wonder if some material can be used that would reduce the squeaking?

B.O.B. and CycleTote trailers:   Fantastic, solid performers.  Jodi LOVES the B.O.B., and the dry sack duffel is a neat feature. I wouldn't haul Django in anything but a CycleTote.  The low center of gravity, inwardly canted wheels, and center-pull design make this the most stable unit out there.  They ain't cheap, but our security on the road is worth it.

Coleman Apex II backpacking stove: This, alas, is discontinued, but for us, it's been a very reliable stove, which, unlike most liquid fuel stoves, burns unleaded gas reliably and simmers as good or better than any stove out there.  The only drawback is the sooty flareup when getting started.  The cooking area needs to be well ventilated.  If/when this stove dies, it looks like the Brunton Vapor line fills the niche for unleaded burning stoves.  Other models claim to run on unleaded, but I've heard they clog easily (MSR Whisperlite, for example).  The Coleman NEVER clogs. 

Big Agnes tents:  Not just the product but the company.  We've loved our Copper Spur three person.  It truly became home.  When the zipper started to fail, the company provided a new body free of charge in the middle of the expedition.  As promised, it was waiting in Hot Sulphur Springs, Colorado, when we rolled into town.  Thanks, Big A.

Leatherman Blast: 

This multi-tool was the Blast and the bomb.  We used almost every tool on here many times.  On long tours, some tool like this is essential.

MSR Alpine kitchen knife:

Jodi found this to replace the zero-rated blade featured below.  The MSR unit costs a whopping $9.95 and works so well that we now keep it handy in the kitchen at home.  Super light, super sharp, stiff, cheap! and comes with its own sheath.  Can't beat that.


Okay, while not everything listed here was/is a total "zero," we did have some problems, so it's good to know what to watch out for.

Sea to Summit mugs: 
These are JUNK!  Yeah, they're light, but we found them to be expensive dribble mugs.  They don't insulate well, and once hot liquids are put in, the lid doesn't seal well--behold the dribble.  We threw them out in Cooke City, Montana, and replaced them with heavier stainless steel lined mugs.  Whatever you get, don't get these.  Full on zeros.

34 gram knife:  Okay, so it was too good to be true.  The knife was soooo cool looking, but it's performance was mediocre at best.  The thin blade flexed far too much and made food preparation a pain in the butt.  Too expensive.

The seat cover in Jodi's left hand, while not used much, was an excellent tool.

MSR MiniWorks EX water filter:  

While this filter gets high ratings on the REI website AND it was chosen by the US Marines, I was not pleased.  It's slower than other models, and it seemed finicky, not wanting to pump properly on the second time we used it.  The intake valve was staying open so that when I compressed the lever, water went back OUT the intake tube rather than into the bag.  Pain. In. The. Ass.  We had problems, as you know, with the MSR Sweetwater system:

The problems, however, were my fault.  The main issue seems to be that the ceramic filter was wet, and then we had some hard freezing nights, which cracked the ceramic. Note to readers and self:  When the filter ain't totally dried out, keep it close on cold nights.  We've always liked this filter and never had problems in the past, so I returned the MiniWorks EX (thanks, REI), and replaced it with a new Sweetwater.  These are lighter, pump more easily, and have fewer moving parts than the MiniWorks.  With the adapter, it can be attached to virtually any container.  We'll stick with this from now on.  After The Time of Hurling, we never needed the filter again, but we will have other trips.  Check 'em out.

I think that covers some of the key players.  Jodi was very pleased with her sleeping bag system comprised of two ultralite Mont Bell down sleeping bags.  This was handy for dialing in sleeping temps, although Django was known to take a little too much of the cover bag on some nights, the sneaky hound.  I use an REI "Sub Kilo" 20 deg. F. down bag, which I've had for five years.  It seems to be losing some of its loft, but I was generally comfortable most of the time.  Our tires were strong performers too: Schlwalbe Marathon Racers, Performance Series.  I think most of the Racers are of this new style.  We had only six flats for the whole tour, and all of these but one came after we'd put more than 2,000 miles on the skins.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

I'm baaaaaaaack!

After three months of touring the Rocky Mountains from Jasper, Alberta (up there in Canada, don'tcha know), to Mexico, we're all back here in the lawless border regions of Tehachistan.  The fangs of winter are nipping at the heels of fall with the first snow of the season dusting the peaks.  I gaze in amazement at the weather forecast for Jasper: A low of -7 deg. F.!  It's good to be in the south, so to speak.  For those who didn't get the news, here's the link to the journal for the big tour:

Divide by Three

I will be making a few more posts on that journal to wrap things up--some general considerations and gear reviews.  There will still be plenty of cycling in our future, but we're both interested in regaining our rock climbing chops.  For me personally, I have a specific big climbing goal I want to achieve in 2013, which will be the subject of a post coming to this blog soon.